At Cal State Long Beach, lauren woods pauses “American MONUMENT” as protest over the firing of the museum’s director

“The Sunday opening of artist lauren woods’ “American Monument” at the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach was meant to protest police violence against African Americans. But the event turned into a different sort of public protest, after the recent firing of the museum’s director, Kimberli Meyer.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is woods’ interactive sound installation featuring 25 record players, lined up in rows in a gallery, emitting audio ephemera from cases related to African Americans who have died as a result of altercations with police. The audio includes the last voicemail of Sandra Bland to a friend before she died in prison in 2015; sound from the police bodycam footage from the 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling; as well as Philando Castille’s girlfriend’s Facebook Live recording of his death. As visitors made their way through the exhibition, playing the recordings for themselves, the collective sound would commingle in the gallery.

But at the opening, it was silence that made the biggest impact.

During the event, woods (purposefully spelled lower case), welcomed guests and introduced her work before reading what would have been Meyer’s opening remarks. Then she played an excerpt of the Philando Castille Facebook Live recording before lifting the needle and bringing the audio to a halt. She then read her own statement, calling for Meyer’s reinstatement, and she switched off nearby turntables. Finally, four project “supporters” she’d enlisted filtered down the aisles, switching off all the remaining record players.

Silence enveloped the room. The artist then walked out, returning later to retrieve the acetate records.

“It was something I felt I had to do,” woods says. “I don’t want anyone to misconstrue that I’m putting myself at the center of the work, or Kimberli at the center, but without her leadership, I can’t do the work. The university could have made a different choice.””

From Deborah Vankin’s “At Cal State Long Beach, an art exhibition on police violence turns into protest over the firing of the museum’s director,” Los Angeles Times, (September 19, 2018).

Image: lauren woods reads a statement about the firing of Kimberli Meyer, the former director of the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach, 2018, photo by Linda Pollack.